by Maisie Smith on February 1, 2018
My fingers itch and my brain feels like it’s buzzing with bees. An unforgiving To-Do list stares back at me from the post-it note stuck to my desk, but I can’t focus on anything until I get my fix.
I need to scroll.
I grab my phone and tap my finger on the big blue “f” to open a world of photos, quizzes, cheap clothes from China, interview snippets from Steven Colbert, and political lamentations. I pause to read posts about how to *finally* earn the six-figure income I deserve.
“I’m researching for work! I’m connecting with people!” I reassure myself as I scroll through the ceaseless trumpery. One hour. Two hours. Three hours. It’s me and my phone, toggling back and forth between Facebook and Instagram. Reading. Tapping. Consuming.
I am a social media addict.
• • •
As a writer, I’ve wrestled with social media for years. I love it! I hate it! It’s a miracle! It’s going to destroy us! What started as a desire to share a bit of my work and connect with others turned into a state of chronic distraction. Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work, says, “Once you’re wired for distraction, you crave it.” Social media becomes an irresistible pull, especially when Blank Screen Syndrome hits fast and furious. Just scroll. Scrolling will help. Scrolling will make everything better.
Social media is so damn enchanting, right? Ping. Buzz. Cue the red circle on our phone. Ahhhh, validation. We are lured back to our apps for another hit of momentary happiness. Social media is engineered to be addictive, convincing us that we’ll miss out on everything and everyone if we aren’t constantly checking our feeds.
I believe we are here to create, not consume. And yet, we gobble up memes, articles, videos, and photos of airplane wings and latte art like a giant black hole whirling through space. More. More. More.
(Maybe some sort of creating vs. consuming ratio is present on social media, but for me, it’s pretty slim…like 3% vs. 97%. That’s no way to live, creating only 3% of the time.)
Social media robs time and attention from meaningful pursuits and keeps us from doing what Cal Newport calls “deep work”—those uninterrupted, deliberate moments of answering our soul’s calling and creating the best stuff we possibly can.
Social media is also a cognitive crutch I use to keep meaningful (but hard) work at bay. It’s a compulsion, rather than a joy. Seth Godin once wrote in his iconic newsletter, “If it’s not giving you joy, it’s a lousy way to live.”
The next year will be a grand experiment to create more moments of connection. No fanfare. No gathering up tins of tuna as if the world is going to end. I’m clicking a few “disable my account” buttons and getting down to the deep work.
Social media can be an amazing tool for knowledge, communication and brand awareness. Rightly so, there are a few things I’ll miss:
• Seeing the day-to-day goodness going on in the lives of friends and family
• Being part of a “world” community
• Dan Rather’s profound Facebook musings
• Pictures of dogs. Man, I’m going to miss all the dogs.
There are also a few things I won’t miss:
• The carefully curated, filtered, and varnished version of people’s lives
• Photos of everyone’s damn food
• The assholes. I’ve read enough caustic, inflammatory shit to last 12 lifetimes
• Slacktivism. Sharing a meme doesn’t make you an activist. It means you have an opinion, just like the rest of us. To create real change, you must get out of the chair and into the world.
• Shitty Facebook re-targeting
• Business gurus and their sponsored posts (No, I don’t want to “kill it on Instagram” or “empower women to live their dreams”)
Social media is a way, but not the only way.
I’ll continue building my copywriting business, but instead of wasting hours creating posts and attempting to connect amidst the clanging tambourines of the social media parade, I’m going to get super personal—more notes, gifts, lunch invitations, Zoom and IRL conversations. My words will be more thoughtful, my attention more genuine. It’s the only way that feels good to me.
While the world spins out of control towards fast, shiny and disposable, I want to create longevity, meaning, and awe. I’ve never witnessed social media providing any of those things. So instead of scrolling, I’ll be:
WRITING ABOUT WHAT MATTERS
Words and stories are my jam, although a book might eek its way out of my brain space sometime soon. I recently dreamed that I wrote a musical based on the works of Shel Silverstein. A full cast belted out original tunes and pranced around the stage in costumes created by children. There was even a grand finale involving elephants. Maybe that’s lurking somewhere in my creative depths.
This is the year I tell more stories, help more brands, and slow my roll so I can find joy in creating.
SITTING FACE-TO-FACE WITH PEOPLE AND RECLAIMING THE LOST ART OF CONVERSATION
I want to invest the time it takes to build solid relationships and focus on better, deeper moments for my clients. I want every person in my life to experience the joy of being heard and understood.
TRAVELING THE WORLD WITHOUT A PHONE GLUED TO MY HAND THE ENTIRE TIME
I want to take more mental snapshots instead of staking out Instagram-worthy photo opportunities. I want to see the world with my own eyes, not through the backside of my smart phone.
REVELING IN PRIVATE MOMENTS
I don’t want to curate every moment of my life for the benefit of others. I’m going to sit in the uncomfortable pauses and embrace humanity for what it is…messy, demanding, lovely.
My decision to quit social media is not a moral stance or a judgment about how you choose to be in the world. I’m not here to convince you to go all Thelma & Louise and drive off the social media cliff. Plenty of people find happiness within their feeds. Deep bows to those of you who’ve found a way to make it work and make it feel good. You. Do. You. In my case, social media doesn’t provide the kind the connection I crave.
Perhaps you feel the same way, like there’s a lack of depth to your life. What’s squatting in your mental landscape right now? It might seem fluffy and harmless, but little distractions have the power to derail good intentions. Maybe it’s time to take a small step back and examine your social media patterns.
I choose to be my own boss, answer emails within 24 hours, travel and work simultaneously, and carve out plenty of time to share a beer with people I adore because I love being in charge of my life. I’m a decider. My choice to disengage from social media is about deciding how and when I consume information. I don’t want to be the end product of any platform—bought and sold through slick, algorithm-driven advertising. I don’t want to be one of Pavlov’s dogs, drooling over every ping, buzz or red dot.
I want to run my business my way. I want to create. I want to inspire. And I want my moments to matter.
I have a plan for my business and want to prove it can thrive without social media. It’s possible that I’ll fail spectacularly, “shot down in a blaze of glory” like Bon Jovi once sang. If that’s the case, you’ll want to stick around to witness the carnage of a thousand “I told you so’s”.
But maybe…just maybe…getting rid of social media will be as easy as breathing air.